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Color Theory : Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko was an Abstract Expressionist artist, but after WWII, he shifted entirely to a new field of expressive painting. In his famous works of colored rectangles, he tried to connect with his viewers and show them the cruelty of war. In his paintings during the 1940s, he merely portrayed the human soul, and he used powerful colors as the central theme of his paintings. He could paint the feelings and emotions of the suffered souls of those days.

Such paintings have no boundaries, and the marginal between colors are soft as if we can touch them. Rothko’s paintings were rectangular in shapes and filled with strong colors. And somehow, they evoke different moods and emotions for diverse viewers. When you look at these works of Rothko you feel a connection with the paintings. In Mark Rothko’s biography we see that “Toward the end of the decade Rothko painted canvases with regions of pure color which he further abstracted into rectangular color forms, the idiom he would use for the rest of his life.”

As Rothko himself once said,” I’m not an abstractionist…I’m not interested in the relationship of color to form or anything else…I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions -tragedy, ecstasy, and so on….”He showed these feelings and emotions with colors, warm and cool, light and dark. These variations of colors show the conflicts and problems in life after WWII. Even today, we can find the answer to many conflicting emotions in his paintings and see life in different views in his beautiful works. Over time his works become timeless.

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Abstract Expressionism

Wassily Kandinsky

After WWII, a group of artists in America established the first American art movement, “Abstract Expressionism,” in New York City, which influenced the world. Abstract Expressionism is a new form of Abstract art. The paintings show subject in an impressionist style and have freedom from the characteristics of figurative art. In Abstract Expressionism, artists express strong feelings in their works. 

Alfred Barr, Jr., director of the New York Museum of Modern Art, used the name “Abstract Expressionism” in respect to the works by Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky had the leading role in the Abstract Expressionism movement. He refused to paint the actual objects in his paintings. He used unique colors to show his emotions in his works.

Barr believed that there are two types of Abstract Art; in the first category were artists like Paul Cezanne. He was a French artist and his works were the foundation of Cubism. In his paintings he used more geometric shapes than other artists of the time. 

In the second category, there were artists like Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky’s paintings of the “pre-war “period had more spiritual forms rather than intellectual. The lines were more curved than straight and more decorative.  In this category, the paintings were closer to nature rather than the geometric shapes.

Pioneers of this movement in America were artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hoffmann, and Ad Reinhardt .